While many people are tired of wine rules and being told what wine to drink with what food, even the most subjective of palates agree that certain varietals do have an affinity with certain dishes. What works well with steak?
Red wine is generally the best choice when having steak since the acid and tannins in most red wines help to cut the proteins and fats in the steak. In general opinion, the best red wines for a fine steak are those produced from the classic Bordeaux grapes: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, and a few lesser-known varieties. In Argentina, where beef is king, malbec is often the preferred wine.
But add black pepper to the steak, as in steak au poivre, and you have a completely different situation. Steak prepared with pepper or any other hot spice needs an equally peppery wine like shiraz or mouvedre, or a blend of the two.
In Burgundy, beef and the elegant pinot noir marry, but in the New World many pinot noirs are lighter and fruitier than their French counterparts. For that reason, many lamb eaters prefer New World pinot noir.
If there are times when white wine goes perfectly with red meat they are the rarest of moments. A woman who claimed to drink only riesling – even with a fine filet mignon – proved that while some make rules most taste is subjective.
Having said that, it is possible for white wines of a certain type to pair well with steak. Specifically higher-end white Burgundies and wines that are styled similarly. Firstly, the creamy richness of this type of wine leads to a mouthfeel and intensity of flavour that CAN INDEED stand up to steaks and grilled meats and other richer and fattier cuts of beef. The other factor going for this type of wine is that white Burgundies contain a good deal of acidity (even after the malolactic fermentation) and that helps to cut through the fat and cleanse the palate.
The smokiness of oak can lend harmony to the pairing. There are other wines, that could do well instead of chardonnay (which is the grape in white Burgundy) such as semillon and semillon based blends especially if they are of a richer, creamier style. Northern Italy produces some very respectable white wines that are similarly styled and would fit well. There are also some great South African and Australian chardonnays that would do well. Australia does some very nice things with Semillon.
The preparation of the steak plays a role as well, for example, if it is served with a cream sauce. Compound butters flavoured with shallots, garlic and green herbs would make a nice liaison with semillon based Bordeaux or even a good dry rose.
How to serve red wine
The term ‘room temperature’ for red wines can be very misleading as it has a huge variant and is usually too warm anyway. Most red wines are best served at ‘cellar temperature’ around 15-16C to embellish the flavour and lift the natural aromas. Some light red fruity wines benefit from light chilling to around 10C – beaujolais, especially, for a refreshing drink.
How to serve white wine
White wines benefit from chilling at around 8-10C. If a wine needs to be chilled quickly placing the bottle in iced water with ice is an effective means.
Never fill the glass. The halfway mark is fine. You can pour as often as people require. It allows the wine to breathe in the glass and for you to swirl the wine and enjoy the aromas. As a general rule serve white before red, young before old and keep the good wine until last.